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Airplane Etiquette

Find tips on dealing with delays and luggage problems when traveling by air.

In this article, you will find:

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Airplane Etiquette

You can choose from three classes when you fly: first class, business class, and coach.

First-class flyers on regular flights get more space, more service, and more to eat and drink than others on the plane. Drinks—alcoholic and otherwise—are free, as are meals and snacks. Seats are larger and more comfortable in first class. Video equipment and telephones are available, as are sleeper seats. Each airline is different, so it's a good idea to check which services are provided. In general, first-class tickets do not carry any penalties for exchanging flights and have no minimum or maximum stay requirements.

Business class is available on most international and domestic flights. It is considerably more expensive than coach class. Seats are roomier than coach and more comfortable. Refreshments are more lavish, and service is upgraded. Most businesses no longer approve first-class travel at their expense, but some find that, for long flights, business class is often worth the investment.

Coach class is the least expensive form of air travel. Seats are small, and space is limited, but the cost is so much lower that it compensates for such minor inconveniences. You might get a meal if you fly during mealtime, but usually only sparse snacks are available.

At the Airport

Here are some things to be aware of (and to beware of) when you arrive at the airport:

  • Avoid the “bag lady” syndrome. Don't show up with both arms encumbered by plastic bags overflowing with newspapers, knickknacks, and snacks.
  • Make sure your luggage ID tags are secure. Air travel is very hard on luggage. Most domestic flights have no weight restrictions on luggage and permit two carry-on bags, one for under the seat and one for overhead. A wardrobe/ garment bag counts as one of the two.
  • Remember that you may have to carry your own bags. If a porter is not available, look for a cart. Tip the porter $1 per bag. Don't expect porters to supply you with luggage ID tags.
  • To take advantage of curbside check-in, you must have your ticket in your hand.
  • Know where the metal objects in your luggage are when you go through the security checkpoint. Other travelers won't appreciate waiting for you to go through an entire suitcase for a small silver mirror when it could have gone in a handbag.
  • Alert security personnel if you have unusual items in your luggage. For example, I often travel with a formal place setting of silver when I'm on the road teaching dining etiquette. I save time and avoid being searched by letting security people know what I'm carrying. Your ticket will list items not permitted on the airplane such as lighter fluid, explosives, and poisons.
  • Keep an eye on your luggage and don't be quick to agree to watch someone else's luggage. You never know what could be inside, possibly a bomb or illegal substances. You may also need to move from your spot before the owner of the luggage returns.
On Board
Say What?

Your neighbor on a plane, train, or bus wants to chat, and you want to be left alone.

What do you say?

“I wish I had the luxury to talk, but I really have to catch up on my work” (or sleep, or reading).

You want to chat, but don't know whether your neighbor does.

What do you say?

“Is this a business or pleasure trip for you?” Take your cue from the tone of the answer.

Welcome aboard. Here are ideas to take with you as you board the plane:

  • Be ready when your row is called. Remove your overcoat or other outer garments before boarding so that you won't block the aisle doing this. People should get out of the aisle as soon as they can in the boarding process.
  • If you intend to sleep during the flight, try to get a window seat so that others won't be inconvenienced by climbing over you and you won't be awakened by them doing so. Also, no matter how experienced a traveler you are, wait until you have heard the emergency instructions before putting earplugs and/or blindfolds in place for sleeping.
  • Reserve an aisle seat if you have long legs or if you expect to be up and down a lot.
  • Bring cash—in small denominations—for in-flight purchases, such as beverages that are not complimentary and headphones for movies.
  • Flight attendants are there primarily for emergencies, not to chat and not to provide maid-valet service. Don't push the call button unless you have a very good reason. A very good reason might be that you need a drink of water, and you don't want to crawl over a row of sleeping passengers.
  • Most airlines provide kosher, vegetarian, low-sodium, low-calorie, high-protein, bland, and diabetic meals upon request and at no extra charge. These meals tend to be somewhat better than the usual airline fare, by the way, because they are not prepared in such great quantities. You must order one of these meals at least three days before your flight. Tell the flight attendant you are getting one such meal as soon as possible after boarding.
  • Leave bathrooms clean. Be efficient with your time while in there. The lavatory is no place to perform a full make-up overhaul. Men should shave before boarding the plane, rather than trying to do so on the plane.
  • Look behind you before you put your seat back in the reclining position, especially just before or after a meal. Moving the seat could spill a drink or dump a dessert into a lap.
  • If working, keep your papers within the framework of your seat. It is polite to ask your neighbor if he or she minds your working on a laptop. Keep telephoning to an absolute minimum. Many passengers, including yours truly, find these things irritating at best.
  • If a delay means you have to dash to make a connection, tell the flight attendants before landing. They can assist you in deplaning quickly.
  • When leaving the plane, stop and let people who are ready to enter the aisle do so in front of you. Don't get into the aisle until you are ready to proceed toward the door.

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